Sports

Fluto Shinzawa | Sunday Hockey Notes

John Scott one of the few left in NHL’s fight club

Sharks enforcer John Scott is one of the last of a dying breed.
Nick Wass/Associated Press
Sharks enforcer John Scott is one of the last of a dying breed.

John Scott had no trouble handling himself during previous visits to TD Garden.

On Jan. 31, 2013, during a first-period fight with Shawn Thornton, Scott locked out his left arm and delivered a rain of rights. One of Scott’s punches caught Thornton behind the left ear, concussing the Bruin.

But on Tuesday, when Scott arrived at the Garden prior to San Jose’s game against the Bruins, the most dangerous fighter in the league felt a sense of relief. With Thornton gone to Florida, Scott could breathe easy knowing a fight would not happen later that night.

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“It’s a huge load off my mind,” Scott said. “It’s very refreshing to go out there and be like, ‘OK, I don’t have to fight tonight.’ Coming into Boston, I’m going to play some hockey. If it happens, it happens. But it’s not the first thing on my mind when I’m going to Boston, going to Toronto, or going anywhere else.”

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Scott is 6 feet 8 inches and 260 pounds. When he curls his fingers into a fist, he wields a weapon. Scott’s reach and the power behind his punches are two elements that nobody wants to see unleashed.

Through three games, Scott has had no reason to shed his gloves for his new employer. He’s had nobody to fight. Many of his former combatants are no longer in the league.

Like all heavyweights, Scott has known the NHL is changing. It is a league that requires its tough guys to play, not just throw down. One-dimensional sluggers are not just fighting their own kind. They’re tussling with evolution. Fourth lines are fast and skilled, not just a place to park enforcers.

The NHL has been behind this movement. The instigator rule deters fighters from seeking justice. Players are not keen on mashing their fists against mandatory visors. Linesmen are told to break up fights before they happen when conditions are safe.

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Managers and coaches have played a part in the reduction of fighting, too. A GM prefers to allocate his cap money toward grunts who can kill penalties and be defensively responsible. A coach wants to roll four lines instead of dressing a 12th forward who sits for 55 minutes.

But Scott didn’t know things would change so rapidly. It wasn’t an offseason of musical chairs, where some fighters would be left standing without a seat. The music never started.

George Parros, Kevin Westgarth, Zenon Konopka, Krys Barch, Matt Kassian, Paul Bissonnette, and Arron Asham became unrestricted free agents on July 1. None of the tough guys earned a deal. Colton Orr, Frazer McLaren, and Jay Rosehill were under contract but were assigned to the AHL before the start of the season.

Scott was fortunate. On July 2, he signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Sharks. GM Doug Wilson explained that San Jose’s young players would feel safer with Scott in uniform.

“There’s plenty of guys who didn’t get deals,” Scott said. “I was lucky enough to make an impact somewhere along the line with the Sharks. They wanted to sign me here. I’m very grateful to be here.”

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It was a curious signing. The Sharks overwhelm opponents with pace. Scott is an 18-wheeler. He is dangerous at cruising speed — he flattened Mikhail Grabovski on Oct. 16, leaving the Islander with a concussion — but requires an eternity to get the wheels spinning.

Scott has soft hands, as he showed in a top-shelf snipe on Braden Holtby in his first San Jose appearance Oct. 14. But Scott rarely gets enough ice time or makes himself open to finish such scoring chances. It was Scott’s third career goal.

Scott also has fewer opponents. Players remaining in his category are Brian McGrattan, Jared Boll, Ryan Reaves, Luke Gazdic, and Patrick Bordeleau. When their contracts expire, it’s doubtful like-minded players will assume their positions. Just five years ago, during his first full NHL season, Scott was one of two fight-first guys on his own team. Derek Boogaard was the other.

Last year, within the Northeast Division, Scott could expect fights against Boston (Thornton), Florida (Barch), Montreal (Parros), Ottawa (Kassian), Tampa Bay (B.J. Crombeen), and Toronto (Orr and McLaren). None of those possibilities exists this year.

The offseason was the equivalent of an asteroid strike. Scott is one of the few dinosaurs still walking the earth.

“I didn’t,” Scott answered when asked if he expected the change to be so rapid. “Especially after last year’s playoffs. LA was a bigger team. They kind of bullied their way to the top. It was bound to happen, I guess. They really went after fighting. It was so drastic this offseason where nobody got signed.”

Scott understands his role. But like all heavyweights, he knows not to pick fights with players outside his weight class, which already claimed exclusive membership.

So he skates as hard as he can. He hits everything he can catch. He tries not to get trapped in his zone. He keeps things loose in the room and on the bench.

“Ideally, I’d like to play two or three more years,” Scott said. “But the way the league’s going, you never know. There’s always guys nipping at your heels. Hopefully we can succeed as a team this year and win the Cup. Or we go a long way and they like what I do.”

The 32-year-old Scott has an engineering degree. He is hoping not to put it to use just yet.

NOT SO FAST

Cost, competition
may prevent trade

As first reported by TSN, the Bruins have been chasing Chris Stewart as a replacement for Jarome Iginla. The wide-shouldered forward scored 15 goals for St. Louis last season before he was shipped to Buffalo in the Ryan Miller trade.

Several factors, however, stand in the Bruins’ way of acquiring the free agent-to-be: cost and competition.

Buffalo GM Tim Murray is hungry for draft picks. Murray’s wish list would include Philadelphia’s 2015 second-round pick, which the Bruins received from the Islanders as part of the Johnny Boychuk trade.

The Islanders received the pick in last year’s Andrew MacDonald deal, otherwise known as the gift that keeps on giving.

Through seven games, the Flyers were 2-3-2 while allowing 3.71 goals per game. Part of that is on Steve Mason (.878 save percentage after five starts). But the goalie’s defense has not played with structure. They’re without MacDonald and Braydon Coburn, who are out for the next four weeks because of lower-body injuries. Points will be hard to come by for the Flyers. Their second-round pick could be in the low 30s.

The Bruins also have company in the Stewart hunt, just within the division. Ottawa has been interested in Stewart before. The Senators could use a No. 2 right wing (formerly Ales Hemsky) behind Bobby Ryan. Tim Murray was formerly an assistant in Ottawa to GM Bryan Murray, who is his uncle. Tim Murray knows the Ottawa system firsthand.

Columbus could also enter the mix. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Nathan Horton’s career may be over because of a degenerative spine condition. Horton, formerly the top-line right wing in Boston, was once projected to play on Columbus’s first line with Boone Jenner and Ryan Johansen. Stewart has some elements of Horton’s game in his toolbox.

Stewart is in the final season of a two-year, $8.3 million contract, according to www.capgeek.com. The Bruins would require Buffalo to retain part of Stewart’s salary. This would presumably add a premium to the deal. Both Ottawa and Columbus could take on all of Stewart’s dough.

Colorado selected Stewart in the first round of the 2006 draft. The Avalanche traded Stewart to St. Louis in the Erik Johnson blockbuster. Stewart has not consistently met expectations as a goal-scoring, body-thumping power forward. But in Buffalo, Stewart (0-1—1) isn’t the only player having trouble scoring. Through eight games, the Sabres had eight regulation goals. With or without Stewart, the Sabres are sprinting for the right to pick Connor McDavid.

ETC.

Right move finally
made with Spooner

One week ago, the Bruins assigned Ryan Spooner to Providence. His task will be to take shifts at left wing, which will be his future short-term position in the NHL.

It was the first good thing the Bruins did with Spooner this year.

Spooner is a natural center. The Bruins thought he might be up to fourth-line duty to start the season, especially when Gregory Campbell was unavailable because of a core injury. But one preseason game against Montreal was enough to prove that the heavy defensive lifting required of a Black-and-Gold center was not meshing with Spooner’s skills. Spooner, centering Daniel Paille and Simon Gagne in the preseason opener, was allowing extended zone time to Montreal’s youngest prospects.

It got a little better. But not much. So the Bruins sent Spooner to Providence on Oct. 1. Two days later, the Bruins recalled Spooner to play left wing for the second-to-last preseason game. Spooner ripped it up against the Islanders, scoring a pair of goals. He was good enough that the Bruins gave him another look at left wing in the preseason finale.

After all that, the Bruins started Spooner at center on the third line between Milan Lucic and Matt Fraser because of injuries to Campbell and David Krejci. Spooner’s predictable line in five games: 0-0—0, six shots on goal, 10:50 average ice time.

So far, the Bruins have not put Spooner in a position to succeed. They waited too long before putting him at wing. They tried to cram him in at center. He may be ready for the position’s defensive responsibilities by next year when he could replace Carl Soderberg as the No. 3 pivot. But at this stage of his career, Spooner is better suited at wing, where he won’t have to roam down low or take faceoffs.

For once, the Bruins are doing right by Spooner. Now it’s up to him.

Mammoth payday awaits Boychuk

Johnny Boychuk is making the most of his opportunity with the Islanders. Through seven games, the ex-Bruin had two goals and four assists while averaging a team-high 22:54 of ice time. He’s getting power-play time, which he never got in Boston. All of this adds up to an annual price tag north of $6 million — and even higher if Edmonton, his hometown club, gets a shot on July 1. Jeff Petry, who is also a right-shot defenseman, will be unrestricted after this season. With Petry’s savings, the Oilers could throw more than $6.5 million at Boychuk. Calgary will also have money to spend on Boychuk. The benchmark is Matt Niskanen’s seven-year, $40.25 million contract. Niskanen is three years younger than Boychuk and has a history of higher offensive production.

Drouin giving Lightning a jolt

Jonathan Drouin, the third overall pick in 2013, missed the preseason after he broke his thumb during rookie camp. Turns out the flashy Drouin didn’t need main camp to get ready for his first NHL season. Tampa Bay’s electric rookie hasn’t looked out of place since making his debut on Monday against Edmonton. Drouin kept up with Valtteri Filppula and Tyler Johnson on the Lightning’s No. 2 line in Tampa’s 3-2 loss to the Oilers. The next night, coach Jon Cooper promoted Drouin to the first line with Filppula and Steven Stamkos. Drouin skated with pace, skill, and reliability. In overtime, Drouin and Stamkos peeled away for a two-on-zero rush. But Karri Ramo stoned Drouin at point-blank range. The Lightning are without injured forwards Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn. But Drouin isn’t playing because of the absences. It’s because he deserves it.

Stamkos looking like his old self

Stamkos, who was never right last season after breaking his leg in Boston, has returned to his top-flight self. Through eight games, Tampa’s triggerman had six goals while averaging 21:08 of ice time. Stamkos is in his first full season as Tampa’s captain. The Lightning have Stamkos under contract through 2016, but they’re already preparing for the raise that’s coming. Around the league, front-office personnel do not think $12 million annually would be a reach for Stamkos. The closest comparables are Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who will make $10.5 million per year starting next season. By then, the Lightning hope that Andrei Vasilevski and Kristers Gudlevskis will be ready for full-time puck-stopping duties at a cheaper price than Ben Bishop, who makes a little less than $6 million annually through 2017.

Hunter will be on the hunt for Leafs

The Leafs continued their management overhaul by hiring Mark Hunter on Tuesday as their director of player personnel. Hunter was previously the GM of the London Knights. The OHL powerhouse has rolled out stars such as Corey Perry, Kane, and Sam Gagner with Hunter and brother Dale Hunter behind the bench. But where Mark Hunter will especially help the Leafs is by identifying lower-tier players such as Seth Griffith. Everybody knew Kane would be a superstar when the Blackhawks drafted him first overall in 2007. But the entire NHL bypassed Griffith, an ex-Knight, when he was first eligible for the draft in 2011. During his original draft year, Griffith scored 22 goals and 40 assists in 68 games for London. The next summer, the Bruins drafted Griffith in the fifth round. The Knights took Griffith in the fourth round of the 2009 OHL draft. Griffith gave the Hunters four good years of service. He’s been good during his first NHL games. These are the players the Leafs need to find during their rebuild.

Loose pucks

Correction to a note from last week: Shawn Thornton was injured, not a healthy scratch, for Florida’s loss to Ottawa on Oct. 13. I made a careless and regrettable mistake that reflected poorly on Thornton . . . Last Thursday marked the 31st anniversary of the US Marine Corps bombings in Beirut. Westborough native Captain Michael Haskell was among the victims of the bombings. Haskell was Framingham State’s hockey captain in 1975-76. Teammates included Bruins off-ice official Al Ruelle Jr. and Richard Carlson, father of the Capitals’ John Carlson . . . The Bruins got worse after trading Boychuk. But they’re in better position to acquire help up front because of the two second-rounders they landed in the trade. The return for Matt Bartkowski or Adam McQuaid would have likely been a lone third-rounder, which would not have been enough to start a conversation for help at wing . . . “O Canada” has always been one of my favorite songs. Its words and melody are in perfect concert. May its beauty and resolve, which reflects the values of its country, comfort our good friends and neighbors.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.